Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Worthington must avoid being Bulgared

Having secured a contract which will encompass the 2010 World Cup’s qualifying campaign Nigel Worthington has reconvened his charges to face Bulgaria in a friendly tomorrow night. The Northern Ireland manager is on somewhat of a hiding to nothing with this match. A home win against Bulgaria in a friendly match will not precipitate wild celebrations at Windsor Park, but a defeat may well raise fresh doubts over Worthington’s tactical acumen.

Reserve goalkeeper Michael McGovern has a broken finger and is unavailable, but Northern Ireland’s most notable absentee is Motherwell centre back Steven Craigan who will be in action for his club tomorrow night. Craigan’s previous omission from matches in Latvia and Iceland left the Northern Ireland defence desperately weakened and precipitated a successful campaign to have the Dundonald man reinstated. Leaving out such an experienced defender has undoubtedly been one of Worthington’s most serious mistakes during his brief tenure so far.

This time the manager’s hand has been forced and he will have to shuffle the defence. Johnny Evans may be redeployed in a central role or Worthington may prefer Gareth McAuley who has performed solidly at right full-back in recent games. Evans is a young player who hopefully has a long international career ahead of him. Despite some crucial errors in international matches and prominently in the Premiership for Sunderland, it would be preferable to allow the defender an attempt to redeem himself in an uncompetitive fixture.

In midfield Damien Johnson’s return gives Northern Ireland welcome options, although the Birmingham captain may find that Sammy Clingan and Steven Davis retain their central berths. Worthington has chosen to omit Grant McCann on this occasion, but he has strength in depth on the wings with Brunt, Gillespie and Sproule contesting the wide positions, and rather bemusingly Luton substitute Steve Robinson thrown in for good measure.

As ever David Healy will provide Northern Ireland’s goal threat, most likely alongside Kyle Lafferty. Warren Feeney is unavailable so the Green and White Army may get a chance to assess free-scoring Scunthorpe striker Martin Paterson. Peter Thompson is also in the squad in the traditional pathetic display of pandering to Linfield fans. If there was any justice and if Worthington had the faintest clue, Thompson would not feature in the match, although we all know he’ll get 15 minutes at the end to allow the shite amongst us in the stands their moment of excitement.

Tomorrow night will be an interesting test. Bulgaria should be a middling outfit (the flair of Berbatov aside) and theoretically an even contest should be the result. As usual Worthington’s squad is a little baffling. Grant McCann should surely have been selected ahead of Robinson and to leave out Andy Kirk, Dean Shiels and even Gary Hamilton in preference to Thompson is an appalling decision, albeit one which is political and typical of many Northern Ireland managers before him.

Latest - Steven Craigan has joined up with the squad and is available to play after Motherwell's Scottish Cup replay with Dundee was postponed. This late involvement typifies Craigan's wholehearted commitment. The defender is not expected to start the game at this late juncture.

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